Cherry trees at Hains Point on the Potomac River Washington DC. Photo by Alison Weber with thanks.

Recently one of my Facebook friends shared a photo with me of a line of magnificent cherry trees. I asked her where they came from & she told me of the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC.  This prompted an Internet search, then some wistful moments wishing I could be there to see this truly gorgeous event.  2012 is very special as it marks 100-years since the first cherry trees were planted.

The trees have some rather interesting history prominently featuring women.  First there is the woman who originally came up with the idea of cherry trees in this location & refused to give up, a First Lady who arranged everything while doing diplomatic duties & a bunch of women who chained themselves to the trees decades later to save them.  Gripping stuff. Following this there is a pageant with a gold & pearl crown that is so heavy it can only be worn for a moment.

In 1885 Elizabeth Scidmore, after returning to Washington DC from a trip to Japan, asked the relevant authority for cherry trees be planted along the reclaimed Potomac waterfront. Her request was denied.  Not giving up she approached every new sitting authority with the same request for the next 24-years.  Every time she met with refusal.

In 1909, 24-years after she first started campaigning, Elizabeth Scidmore started fundraising to pay for cherry trees, which she planned to donate to the city.  She also wrote to the First Lady, Helen Herron Taft. Luckily, the First Lady had lived in Japan & was familiar with cherry trees & her return letter to Elizabeth Scidmore was positive.

From thence Elizabeth Scidmore’s campaign steamrolled.  One day after the First Lady’s response letter to her was written, the Japanese chemist who discovered adrenaline & takadiastase, Dr Jokichi Takamine visited Washington DC with the Japanese Consul of New York.  In discussion with the First Lady about the plan to have cherry trees planted Dr Takamine offered to donate 2,000 trees.

Can you imagine how joyous Elizabeth Scidmore would have felt when she heard this news!  4 months later came official notification of the donation of cherry trees & another 4 months later in December 1910, 2,000 cherry trees arrived in Washington DC as a gift from the Mayor of Tokyo, Japan to symbolize friendship between Japan & the USA.  Sadly these trees were infested with insects & nematodes & were destroyed.  Japan’s gift waited until another 3,020 trees arrived in 1912.  Japan had generously increased the donation by a further 1,020 trees.

The first two cherry trees were planted along the north bank of the Tidal Basin in Washington DC’s West Potomac Park by the First Lady Helen Herron Taft & the wife of the Chinese Ambassador, Viscountess Chinda.  I cannot find anything that says whether Elizabeth Scidmore was in attendance.  I hope she was & after 24-years of lobbying she deserved to be.  What is lovely is that these 2 trees are still alive today.

Lobbying by women was not over.  In 1938 a group of women chained themselves together near the trees to protest to President Franklin D. Roosevelt because some of the cherry trees were to be removed for the construction of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. The women negotiated for more replacement cherry trees to be planted to frame the memorial.

Women continue to feature for in 1948 the National Cherry Blossom Festival Princess was inaugurated with a Cherry Blossom Queen chosen to reign during the festival.  In 1957 the President of Mikimoto Pearls donated the Mikimoto Pearl Crown – a precious gift of around 1kg of gold & 1,585 pearls. The Cherry Blossom Queen gets to wear this crown for a moment, before being crowned with a miniature gold crown with a pearl topping each point, that she keeps as her own.

Sunset over the Cherry trees at Hains Point on the Potomac River Washington DC. Photo by Alison Weber with thanks.

100 of the original 3,000 cherry trees are still alive today.   The Japanese government has continued to replace trees that have died or others have been grown from cuttings of the original trees.   In 2012 around 4,000 Cherry trees are located in the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, East Potomac Park & the grounds of the Washington Monument.  For the centenary another 160 trees were planted around the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

All the trees have powdery pink or creamy white flowers.  They blossom for only 2-weeks, but what a fantastic 2 weeks!  From looking at a slideshow of photos (link below) you can get a good idea of the phenomenal beauty that these trees provide.  They are tall, naturally shaped & cascade over the pedestrian pathway & the water. You literally walk under a sky of blossoms that must start raining petals when the flowering period starts to end.  A ring of soft pink surrounds the Tidal Basin with the water reflecting the trees. It’s a photographer’s paradise.

Because it is the centenary the festival will last 5-weeks, instead of the usual 2 weeks.  Aside from the trees, there are many activities for the public to foster a greater understanding of Japanese culture. This year the National Cherry Blossom Festival runs from 20th March – 27th April 2012.

I thank Alison Weber for sharing this with me as I had no knowledge whatsoever of this festival & to be told about it on the Centenary was wonderful timing.  Alison took both photos in this post.

You can see a slideshow of photographs of the cherry trees here –   Another site seriously worth visiting is Google images of the National Cherry Blossom Festival –